This week, one of my clergy asked me this question: “This week’s gospel from John 20 Jesus tells the apostles: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ And we’ll pray, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ Do you think this means that if we don’t forgive TEC for what they have done to us, they will not be forgiven? And if we don’t forgive them their trespasses, ours will not be forgiven? This has been rattling around in my brain for some time and I decided to bring it to someone who might be able to help me understand it.”
When Jesus says to the Apostles: "If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them and if you retain the sins of any they are retained," he is speaking about the Church. Jesus has granted the Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the privilege and responsibility to speak for God. When sin is committed by an individual against God, and that person - in the context of the Sacrament of Reconciliation or in the General Confession during a church service - confesses his sin, then the Church - speaking for God - can release people from sin IF they are repentant and come with a contrite heart. How powerful and important it is for the priest to speak those words over the congregation: "Almighty God have mercy on you. Forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ. Strengthen you in all goodness and bring you to life everlasting through Jesus Christ our Lord."
In the Lord's prayer, Jesus is speaking to the individual Christian who has been wronged. In that case, you should be willing and able to forgive, just as God is willing, able, and faithful to forgive us.
With regards to The Episcopal Church, it is the second form of forgiveness that comes into play: we must forgive TEC for the wrong they've done. That doesn't mean that we do not admit the hurt they have caused - or the fact that they are unrepentant. However, we must release them. To hold onto anger and bitterness only damages our soul and hardens our heart.
I believe I can honestly say that I do not hold ill will against TEC. I pray for the conversion of their leadership, and that they will stop leading people astray. However, in dealing with TEC, I also remember Jesus' words: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Mt. 10:16) We are sheep living amongst wolves.
I pray that the Lord may bless and keep you all!